Picturing the Century

Portfolio: Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is one of the most celebrated photographers of all time. His images of the American landscape, and especially those of the American West, are familiar to millions. Born and raised in San Francisco, Adams studied music as a youth with the hope of becoming a concert pianist. At age 14, while on a family vacation, he took his first snapshots of Yosemite National Park. From that time on, Adams was captivated by the idea of recording nature on film. While in his twenties, he abandoned his musical ambitions for a career in photography, working as a portrait and commercial photographer. By the 1930s he began to achieve success for his visionary yet highly detailed photographs of western landscapes, especially those taken in Yosemite National Park. Over the next decades, Adams continued to work as a photographer, staging exhibitions and writing several important books on photographic technique. He also became a champion of the conservation movement in the United States, speaking out for environmental concerns and serving on the board of directors of the Sierra Club. Today, Ansel Adams's photographs remain immensely popular, "conveying to millions," according to his biographer, "a vision of an ideal America where nature's grand scenes and gentle details live on in undiminished glory."

In 1941 Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes asked Adams to take photographs of the American West for a series of murals to be installed in the Department of the Interior Building in Washington, DC. The murals were never completed, but 226 of Adams's signed original prints were later added to the National Archives holdings and can be found among the records of the National Park Service.

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